Meet The Designers Tackling Fashion's Plus-Size Accessories Problem Head-On
The towering walls of chokers and bracelets at H&M and the sleek boots lining the floors at Zara have one infuriating thing in common: These accessories are not made for plus-size people. A straight-size shopper rarely blinks before tossing a set of shiny gold rings in their cart at checkout or zipping up pairs of knee-high boots to find the perfect fit. But for the plus-size consumer, the frustration of shopping in general is compounded when you’re not only alienated from the clothing racks, but from rings and belt bags, too.
If the severe lack of plus-size accessories is shocking to you, take this moment to check your privilege. The fashion industry has historically alienated anyone above a size 12, despite the fact that this group makes up the majority of the U.S. Thankfully, the number of brands offering extended sizes in clothing has grown tremendously, and the plus-size fashion industry is expected to be worth $697 billion by 2027. The same can’t be said for the plus-size accessory market.
“Fashion has made a lot of progress, but the baseline remains straight-size, cis women, so of course [brands] wouldn't consider their shoes, their belts, or even rings and bracelets,” A+E Networks project manager Kiera Wilson, 26, tells Elite Daily. “Growing up in a world where nothing at the mall fit me, and [where] trying on clothes became an exercise in feeling bad about myself and what weight I had gained, accessories became the only place I felt comfortable expressing myself and my style.”
How frustrating it is, then, that there are still so many roadblocks in the one area of fashion plus-size shoppers feel they can turn to. “I have a particular penchant for booties but most retailers [only carry] a showroom size. I'll try on a shoe that fits perfectly on my actual foot, but bunches up around my ankle or straight-up cuts off my circulation,” says Wilson. “I have had to return or get rid of so many shoes because of this. I'm still out there, searching for the perfect boot, wishing people would understand that not everyone has toothpick ankles.”
The “fat tax” — the fact that brands often price plus-size items several dollars higher than identical straight-size items — is yet another barrier designed to alienate plus shoppers. “There are maybe only a handful of accessory companies that I [support] just because I know their products are made with bigger bodies in mind,” says plus-size model and fat-positive influencer Kat Stroud, 32. “It can still be a bit of a struggle to find accessories where I'm not having to pay an extra arm and leg just to get it to fit right.”
The plus-size accessory market is ripe for change, with designers like Eleanor Anukam, Ashley Nell Tipton, and Al Sandimirova leading the charge to create a more inclusive industry where plus-size people can accessorize like everyone else. Anukam is carving out a more accessible space in the luxury shoe market for people with bigger feet. Tipton has spent her time during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic creating masks for all face shapes and sizes and previously created eyewear for plus-size bodies. Sandimirova is making the fine jewelry realm more inclusive of all sizes — and genders — with their brand Automic Gold. Below, Elite Daily spoke to the three innovators about their creations and how they hope to see the plus-size accessory market evolve.
Eleanor Anukam of Eleanor Anukam
Elite Daily: What inspired you to create your luxury footwear brand?
Eleanor Anukam: In 2015, I started the brand out of necessity. I'm 5'10" and I wear a size 12 shoe. I have size-appropriate feet, right? [Brands like] Louis Vuitton don’t make my size, and all the other high-end brands don't make my size. So I just thought, let me create something [that does].
ED: What does your design process look like?
EA: I'm not really into trends. I just do what I want, really. If I see something or if I'm on a factory floor and a color speaks to me or I'm on Pinterest and something speaks to me, I pin it and I just start sketching. It happens organically.
ED: What’s been the most difficult part of building your brand?
EA: I'm not a traditional shoe designer. I can sketch, but I'm not a shoe cobbler. So locating factories that were going to take on my project [was difficult] because half of them don't like taking on new clients. Second of all, they don't like creating footwear for extended sizes because it requires more material and they don't have existing lasts. To make shoes, you have to use something they call “a last,” and they don't have those. It's expensive because I, as a designer, have to buy [them]. [Size] 5 to 10 is kind of what [most factories] do. Trying to extend that to a [size] 13 was hard. It was just hard finding somebody to believe in it.
ED: Since you launched your brand, what has the response been like from consumers?
EA: When the [customers] get the box in their hands, they love it. The reception of my brand has been phenomenal. I've gotten the attention of several celebrities like Laverne Cox and [big] magazines.
ED: What innovations do you hope to see in the next five to 10 years in the plus-size accessory space?
EA: I'm hoping that in the next 10 years the industry and manufacturers are more inclusive. It costs me a lot more to make my shoes than it would cost anybody [else], so I'm hoping that [curve] flattens. If it costs me twice as much to create and then I still have to price my shoes according to, you know, Competitor A, it's not fair. So, [I hope we] find some way for us to flatten that curve. That's what I hope for, is for production costs to be lower.
Ashley Nell Tipton of Ashley Nell Tipton
Elite Daily: What made you decide to start your eponymous brand?
Ashley Nell Tipton: I've always been a fat person. And when I say fat, I say it proudly because I don't think being fat makes me less of a person or anything. I think I'm an amazing individual and I want to celebrate my body and my happiness. For years, I've always felt plus-size women have always been overlooked, or just never tended to, and have always been on the back burner. I wanted to make clothing that represented who we are and bring out our personality.
ED: Why did you recently decide to pivot from ready-to-wear clothing to designing masks?
AT: As a business owner, you always want to evolve your business around what is happening in the world today, and I've always been an advocate of making people happy and finding different ways to do that. Going into plus-size clothing was my way of making an industry that has been underserved for so many years finally [get] recognized, and when I felt like I had finally done my job, I could transition to something else. Because we have to wear a face mask, why not make something that either has a positive message or a political message or fun design?
ED: What is your design process like?
AT: My manager Andrew and I work together to create these powerful pieces that will really make people happy [and] be more proud of what they believe in. We've done our whole political masks. We have Hispanic-themed masks that come from my heritage and from wanting people to see more representation of Latino culture.
ED: Since you've launched the masks, what has the response been like from consumers?
AT: Our mask business has been one of the most successful businesses we've had since we stopped designing plus-size clothing. We've had all types of customers — customers who weren't even plus-size and who have never shopped with us. There are people out there, too, who say, “Can you please get back to designing [clothes].” But I think what people have to understand is your business has to change with the times. You can't stay this one-trick pony. You have to continue to pivot yourself and transform your business into what society needs.
ED: How do you hope the plus-size accessory space evolves?
AT: When it comes to accessories, we're always familiar with accessories being one-size-fits-all. But that's not the case for us. There are rings, there are chokers, there are bracelets and crossover bags that we want to wear, but they were not created by a plus-size [person] who considered how it would function for us. I wish there were more belts, more crossover bags, more fanny pack belts, and hats [in our sizes].
Al Sandimirova of Automic Gold
Elite Daily: What was your inspiration for Automic Gold?
Al Sandimirova: I designed the [first] collection in 2016 and I launched it in 2017. I was working in fine jewelry for over a decade, and I didn't like [what I was seeing] for myself to wear. I didn't like too-feminine or too-masculine styles, and all high-end jewelry at the time, were really, really gendered. So I started making jewelry for me and my friends started asking me to buy it. [Lately], people have been telling me, [about] how limited ring sizes are, but when I started [Automic Gold], I didn't even think about [that]. When I started, I did ring sizes [up to] size 16.
ED: How do you come up with your designs?
AS: I'm really inspired by genderless fashion — to mix feminine and masculine and [to] see what's not done yet. Also, I'm inspired by making fine jewelry [that a] regular person can afford. I like high-end, good-quality pieces, but I know that most of us can't spend thousands of dollars [on it]. So my passion is to make [jewelry that’s] not too gendered and that will fit anybody, but it won't break the bank and is the best quality possible.
ED: What’s been the hardest part of turning your brand into what it is today?
AS: Online, people comment rude stuff, and I just don't understand. We showcase rings on different finger sizes. For example, a size 15 hand will be fluffy [and the comments will be] half positive, half negative. People will say [things] like, "Oh, it's choking the person." I'm always like, “Nope. This is just how plus-size hands look. Sorry, you have never been exposed to that before.”
ED: What has the response from your customers been like?
AS: When I was working at the [Automic Gold] store, taking personal requests, some people cried when they saw their ring size. They said it's the first time they could ever try on a ring and see [how it looks on them]. Many people, specifically plus-size consumers, they'll say, “Thank you for making these delicate pieces in my size.”
ED: What are you looking forward to seeing from the plus-size accessory market in the next several years?
AS: Right now, I'm designing [an] engagement ring collection. Usually [engagement rings] are made in the average size 7. What I'm going to do is [expand the] average size designs from 4 to 13, so when you don’t know [someone’s] size, you don't assume it’s the average [size 7]. We can show a wide variety of ring sizes for the fiancé, and the person can choose based on design.